FIVE-YEAR-OLD PAULITO and his four-year-old sister Lucy were the first two children to live with us in our Tijuana ranch for otherwise homeless children in 1988.
Paulito was shot from guns right from the start! He never walked anywhere. Despite impaired motor skills, running in his own contorted way was his habit. The little dynamo was a genius with directions. One trip to the most difficult-to-find place was enough for him to remember and signal where to turn the next time. Paulito watched mechanics work on our vehicles once and remembered how small parts fit together months later.
Paulito could not speak but somehow communed with my wife Alba using grunts, shrieks and laughs. The only time he was motionless during waking hours was when he sat perched atop a hill on a flat rock in a trance listening to gentle breezes in the afternoon. He suffered from hours'-long epileptic seizures that usually began at midnight. Instead of eating in a normal manner, he smashed food against his mouth.
His violent behavior put other children and adults at risk. For example there was the time he tried to club the skull of a little girl with a narrow nail-exposed board. His favorite hobby was choking other kids, including his sister, with life-threatening force. He enjoyed hearing men groan when he punched them in the groin. Unwarned women picked him up and were shocked when he tore their blouses apart with a sinister laugh.
Devoted childcare workers quit because they were afraid of the wild-eyed, wire-haired boy with supernatural strength who would attack without provocation. And that’s why Paulito had his own bodyguard. A brave soul was always near him to protect the bodies of others. Workers said Paulito was demon-possessed.
We prayed earnestly for a miracle and there were times when Alba was able to tame the beast inside, but finally it appeared that Paulito could not continue to live in community at the ranch without endangering the well-being of other children and visitors.
After a year with Paulito, I sadly promised God that if a dramatic turning point didn't come within two weeks, he would have to leave—but where could he go? On the last day of the second week at supper, I asked the children if one of them would give thanks for our food.
For the first time Paulito volunteered by raising his hand. The other children risked his retaliation by snickering. They knew he couldn’t speak. “Okay, Paulito you can pray,” I said, expecting him to make some crude guttural noise.
Paulito cleared his throat and then in Spanish words everyone could understand said, “Our Father in heaven, bless this food and Dean and Alba. Amen.” All of the children sat dumb-founded and one misty-eyed missionary knew he had witnessed Paulito’s turning-point.
From that day on, Paulito’s life changed. He had met Jesus. He began to share toys, help others and reach out first to shake hands with visitors. Violence was replaced with genuine love. He would later learn to speak Spanish and English and win many trophies and awards in the Special Olympics and travel all over Mexico and California as a member of the International Olympic team.
Today, Paulito and his sister Lucy are all grown-up and live in Tijuana where we discovered them so many years ago. Paulito is a mechanic and Lucy is a hospital administrator. Lucy still calls Alba “Mom” and Paulito will always be the first of my favored sons in Mexico. They visit Alba, me and our dog Ranger in Ensenada for fun and fellowship when they can.